ENGLAND Lake District 2016

England, Lake District, 2016

We’d been travelling for forty hours, which included the couple-of-hours’ drive from Manchester to the Lakes. After an alfresco pub dinner, I needed to stretch my legs, so climbed the first mountain that night: Troutbeck Tongue.
Fells Walking in the Lake District, 2016 version. Wainwrights.
We first visited the Lake District BC (Before Children), influenced in our choice by the English Romantic poets we’d studied at Uni. We came straight from Switzerland, but the height difference didn’t bother me at all and neither did the lack of a jagged, diamond-shaped summit.
Scene out our window at Maggs Howe, Kentmere  our first base this year  a lovely B&B with a huge “sun” room for reading, and magnificent breakfasts. We loved our veggie lasagne dinner too.
What impressed me far more was the intricacy of the glaciated lumps and bumps that produced interesting shadows and changes in the theme of green. The stone walls and sheep, quaint villages and lakes all added their charm. It was like drinking pinot grigio instead of cordial; I enjoy subtler flavours. The only boring bit was that the wretched people spoke English, but I guess they can’t be abused for that.
Setting out for the first peak on the Kentmere Seven: Shipman Knotts. It’s lovely when the people who run your B&B know the fells too. I had laid out the map on the breakfast table before setting out, showing Christine (Magg’s Howe) my intended route. She nodded her approval. Richard at Scales Farm did the same, and loved talking maps and routes with me in the evening. The English actually navigate their fells: they don’t just go baa behind a leader. I like it. 

We climbed many peaks that first trip; I climbed more later as an athlete training and competing in the area (not many more, actually: I was like a record stuck in the groove of running from Derwent Water up Cat Bells to Dale Head each day. I couldn’t get enough of that particular view. It seemed the perfect workout). Meanwhile, we had fallen in love with the sensitivity to nature and the sense of humour of a guy called Alfred Wainwright whose Coast to Coast and The Penine Way books we’d chucklingly devoured when we did those walks, so we now bought the whole of his collection on the English peaks, called after him, the Wainwrights. A Wainwright is, quite simply, a mountain that has made it into his books. It seems that a lot more people than just us liked this guy’s taste when it came to beauty.


After I bought the books (2012), I began ticking in the index at the back the ones I’d climbed. Uh oh. You guessed. I decided I wanted no black spaces in those indexes. I became a collector of Wainwrights. 2014 was the first trip where I actually began systematically to mop up spare mountains lying, accidentally neglected, about the place. I continued my cleaning operations last year and again this year, managing around 35 or so new mountains each eight-day visit. 

 Steel Knotts

A wonderful aspect of this completing game, both in Tasmania and England, is that it propels you to climb peaks that you might otherwise dismiss as being too easy, too foreboding, too boring or too far away. They must all be climbed, and ultimately, each one, however dull it may seem before you get to meet it properly, has a story which is worth knowing. So, in 2014 I found myself climbing mountains that had looked formidably steep or high from face on. Both abroad and at home, I have had to have a massive redefinition of “can’t do”. With map and compass I go out in any weather; after all, clouds are interesting, and mist is wonderfully moody. There’s a Wuthering Heights-type wildness up there alone in the windswept tops by yourself. 

Beginning my final peak for this morning: Hallin Fell, looking back at Beda Fell, which I would climb the next day (for the second time) before breakfast.

I am now in the endgame of this mission. This 2016 trip was carefully planned, and next year’s trip is mapped out already. I know the order in which I’ll climb my remaining peaks, and the particular base I’ll use for each cluster.

Setting out for Beda Fell as the sun peeps around the corner. Ullswater below.
You have to be systematic in the endgame, as accidentally leaving one mountain out could require an extra trip to the UK – a rather expensive omission – or, even if you’ve allowed enough additional days for error, if you’ve planned for and booked the next base, you might be geographically stuck. Also, of course, it’s unnecessary to pay for fourteen days when you can get the job finished in nine. I have treated the whole matter as a quasi rogaining exercise, and I believe I’ve grouped the residue mountains in the best way. Had I known I would end up collecting Wainwrights, I would have been a lot less random and haphazard at the start, when I just chose the shapes that pleased and went up them.
On Beda Fell
I’ve really enjoyed being challenged to climb mountains that didn’t initially appeal. Life and nature are full of variety, and it’s not good to only do our single favourite activity, or eat our most preferred dinner each night – or to only mix with a single kind of person. We become narrow and unhealthy in several ways. Fresh elements are required in any system to keep it functioning well, Climbing mountains that I thought were too dull is part of imbibing life’s variety. Sometimes these “ugly ducklings” offered an unexpected surprise; they were always an experience to be valued as enriching my life with their tiny dose of added complexity. As Niklas Luhmann correctly says, there is nothing with absolutely no meaning: even “meaningless” has a meaning.
The moody lower slopes of Blencathra, stage lit on the ridge with a single shaft of light.

 My favourite mountain this year was Blencathra, full of drama and mystique, shrouded in thick cloud. A popular mountain due to its height and bulk, I had it all to myself that day (as long as you don’t count sheep). The monster drop over the sharp edge of the summit ridge, should you get careless and accidentally step off the mountain, would be every bit as deadly as falling off the Matterhorn (I am not actually sure how people manage to accidentally step off a mountain, even in thick mist, but I have a friend who died that way, so it is possible, even if beyond my comprehension). 

This is not the steep drop to which I was referring, but you can see that even the “gentle” slopes of Blencathra are pretty steep.

My two favourite routes were the Kentmere Seven (in which I climbed eight, so I’m not sure which one gets kicked out of the in-group), and a route I did above Ullswater that took in Arthurs Pike, Bonscale Pike, Loadpot Hill, Wether Hill, (Brownthwaite Crag), Steel Knotts and Hallin Fell (starting from Sharrow Bay), with brilliant vistas nearly the whole way. For all routes, I was back at base for lunch with my husband who had left home so stressed that not even the beauty of England and removal from his work could help him regain his composure. Sadly, he only climbed three of my thirty-seven mountains, and spent many days sleeping. He was anxious and uncomfortable away from home, and wanted to return, so I arranged for him to go back early. It is with huge sadness that I realise this was probably our last attempt at travelling together. He was always an intrepid adventurer, but now his illness is catching up with him. Thank goodness we did so very much together while we could.

Across the road from our accommodation at Bassenthwaite
On the first day in England, I met my counterpart, David Purchase, who keeps records of the completers of the Wainwrights, who had helped me as I researched information for my recent article in Wild magazine (issue 153 if you’d like to get a copy). It was fun to meet him in the flesh after writing emails for half a year. When I complete the Wainwrights next visit, I will be the first non-European to do so, and David will climb my final mountain with me. That will be fun.
The scenery on my final cluster of three mountains for this visit, and my husband is with me. 
And here he is at the summit of his third and final mountain for the trip. He then went back to the car while I continued to do more.
If you’re planning on being in England June next year, maybe you’d like to join us on top to celebrate. I’ve chosen a nice doable mountain for the final one, just in case Bruce decides he can cope with Europe, just in case … whatever.

Post script. I have realised, a week after publishing this, that I have not expressed my gratitude to a person I have never met, but to whom I am greatly indebted in this venture: David Hall of http://www.davidhalllakedistrictwalks.co.uk. The old name for his site was walkthefells. David publishes his various routes up each fell (with times and distances), and gives advice on parking. Not knowing the area, I find his parking hints to be indispensable, and his routes always make interesting (map) reading. I love staring at maps, imagining myself walking along the route indicated by the colourful line crossing its features. His pictures are wonderful. The site makes great browsing, even if you don’t ever want to visit the Lakes.

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